First Drive: 2012 Coda Electric Sedan

By · November 17, 2011

Coda electric sedan

As I reported for the New York Times Wheels blog this morning, it looks like Coda has turned the corner on the journey to offering its all-electric sedan. Evidence: The company lowered the price by $5,000 to $39,900; it locked in a deal with GE to provide the Level 2 charger; it extended its battery warranty to 10 years; and it improved the fit and finish of the model compared to previous versions.

But all of these iterative improvements don’t mean that Coda is out of the woods. Just a few minutes ago, I took my first ever drive in the “Batch 5” prototype of the car. Once again, I’m reminded that you cannot leapfrog multiple generations of automotive engineering. The quality improvements of the Coda during the past year are great—but don’t compare with the relentless level of quality and engineering enhancements that major auto companies (with much greater resources) bring to bear on all their vehicles, including their electric offerings.

I found the steering on the Coda too squishy and loose—and the turning radius too wide. Braking was soft on the foot. Worse, the throttle mapping on the accelerator required about an inch more action than I would have expected. As a result, the jump off the line was more like a gentle step. The great electric torque does kick in, but not until the car has been rolling for a couple of seconds.

Coda electric sedan

There’s also more work to be done on calibration of various electronics. The dial that controls park-reverse-neutral-drive is finicky. Spin the dial too fast and the next gear fails to engage. I would have taken a clearer picture of the dial, but the switches that turn the dashboard light on and off didn’t work in a predictable way, and then entirely gave out.

Still, the handling felt pretty darn good. The seats were comfortable. And the dashboard display was extremely clear—and even has a simple State of Charge gauge, exactly what EV drivers covet and what is lacking in other mainstream electric cars.

Coda electric sedan

I only had about 10 minutes in the car driving in a short route around the L.A. Convention Center—but my overall impression was less than spectacular. It will take some real pro-EV commitment for a buyer to put down $40,000 on this vehicle (even with $10,000 worth of incentives), considering that it lacks any of the luxury feel that you find in the Nissan LEAF or Chevy Volt. Durability is also a pending issue.

Coda is definitely making progress. Now that Ford has overpriced its Focus, and Honda has wimped out on the Fit EV by only offering it as a lease, Coda represents one of the remaining hopeful signs that a car company is truly committed to bringing another affordable mainstream electric car to the market. My complaints notwithstanding, Coda deserves a big pat on the back. My message to them: You’re getting closer. Keep on going. Let's see how good Batch 5 or Batch 6 can get.

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